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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 8
Combined Arms Operations in Iraq

In March 2003 the Coalition launched a campaign designed to overthrow the Saddam regime by using mechanized land forces conducting large-scale offensive operations with significant air support against an enemy that used comparable forces in a similar manner. The campaign in Iraq that spring was a contest, however uneven, between conventional military forces. Once Baghdad fell and the Saddam regime crumbled, the nature of operations changed radically. Beginning in May 2003 Coalition forces began dealing with an unconventional enemy that engaged in asymmetrical warfare in many different settings, including complex urban areas. These insurgents employed a variety of means to attack Coalition forces, and the US Army responded using full spectrum operations to win the support of the Iraqi population and counter the growing threat. The new campaign included an array of actions designed to gather intelligence, seize key members of insurgent networks, and assist in rebuilding Iraqi governance and infrastructure. Most of these missions were mounted by tactical-level units, ranging in size from squad- to battalion-size elements, and fell outside the range of operations that most American Soldiers had prepared for before Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) began.

US Army units, nevertheless, did plan and conduct missions in this period that were much closer on the spectrum of conflict to conventional combat. The most common of these operations were the counter-improvised explosive devise (IED) and countermortar operations that units conducted on a routine basis. Infantry, armor, and other maneuver companies, or their subunits, most often mounted these operations, but routinely did so with assistance from combat support elements such as engineer and field artillery batteries. While small in scale, these missions were critical to US commanders because they granted American units the freedom to maneuver and the ability to retain the initiative in the campaign. The 4th Infantry Division (4th ID) in 2004 classified these actions as “enabling operations” that allowed the unit to “conduct its decisive operations.”1

Contrasting sharply with these routine albeit dangerous missions were the large-scale operations that focused the combat power of brigade-size units on areas where insurgents and militia forces had concentrated. After the summer of 2003, Combined Joint Task Force–7 (CJTF-7) and its subordinate units became less inclined to conduct large-scale offensive operations such as the 4th ID’s Operation PENINSULA STRIKE, because of concerns that these broad assaults might be alienating the general populace and preventing Iraqis from supporting the Coalition effort against the insurgency.2 Despite these fears, in 2004 major offensive actions by insurgent forces compelled the Coalition to reconsider the use of large-scale combat operations of its own. The April 2004 uprising of Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia forces, the Sunni Arab insurgent takeover of the city of Samarra in late summer 2004, and the creation of a formidable insurgent enclave in Fallujah that same summer constituted the most serious threats to stability and progress in Iraq. In each of these cases, Coalition forces chose to employ large combat formations in conventional offensive operations to destroy those threats.

This chapter will first examine the more common counter-IED and countermortar operations that characterize how US Army units attempted to create security in their areas of responsibility (AORs). The discussion will then shift to the large operations the Coalition felt were required to defeat major insurgent offensives and concentrations. US Army units conducted hundreds of company-, battalion-, brigade-, and division-level operations between May 2003 and January 2005. For example, between June 2003 and March 2004, the 1st Armored Division (1st AD) alone mounted 11 major operations in the city of Baghdad, all of which featured the division’s subordinate brigades and battalions conducting raids, cordon and searches, and other offensive-oriented missions in their AOR.3 In that same period, the 4th ID executed 10 offensive operations in the Sunni Triangle to the north of Baghdad.4

Rather than attempt to describe and analyze even a small portion of these actions, this chapter will examine four of the largest combined arms offensive operations as a means of providing insight into how the Army conducted combat missions in 2003 and 2004. These four operations are Operation PENINSULA STRIKE in which the 4th ID conducted a large-scale cordon and search against a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold in June 2003; the April 2004 “extension campaign” that focused the 1st AD and other US Army units against the Shia militia forces in An Najaf, Al Kut, and other towns to the south of Baghdad; the 1st Infantry Division’s (1st ID) Operation BATON ROUGE, which pitted US and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) against Sunni insurgents in the city of Samarra in October 2004; and Operation AL FAJR, the November 2004 joint and combined assault that directed US Marine forces, US Army combined arms task forces, and ISF against the insurgent bastion in the city of Fallujah. These actions forced units to shift quickly from decentralized stability and support operations to the planning and conduct of complex, large-scale combined arms operations that featured intensive combat actions against a resolute enemy.

Chapter 8. Combined Arms Operations in Iraq

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